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How To Plan a Funeral or Memorial Service

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Updated May 21, 2014

How To Plan a Funeral or Memorial Service
Photo: George Doyle / Getty Images
The purpose of a funeral is to give meaning to a person’s life. It’s an opportunity for family and friends to gather and remember the deceased while offering support and comfort to one another. Planning a funeral can be an emotional process with several legal and financial matters to consider. Taking these steps can help you as you plan, whether you are planning your own funeral or that of a loved one.
Difficulty: Hard
Time Required: 1 Full Day or More

Here's How:

  1. Plan Ahead

    If you are the type of person who likes to plan ahead or if you know you have a life-limiting illness, planning your own funeral may be the right thing for you. You can plan your own funeral, and even pay for it, well in advance of your death.

    If you are caring for a loved one who is dying, you, also, can plan the funeral in advance. Planning ahead is a good idea, as it’s more difficult to make decisions when you’re already grieving their death.

  2. Cover the Cost

    Paying for the funeral in advance may appeal to those individuals who prefer not to burden their families with difficult decisions and funeral costs.

    You don’t necessarily need to pay for services in advance but can still set money aside, so as not to burden family members financially, by setting up a payable-on-death (POD) account at your bank. When you set up this type of account, you name the person you want to handle you arrangements as the beneficiary. These accounts don’t have to go through probate and the money goes directly to the beneficiary at the time of death.

  3. Make Your Wishes Known

    If you’re planning your own, talk with your family about your funeral wishes to make sure they know what you want. Having a verbal conversation about your wishes will paint a better picture for your loved ones than written requests. Consult with your attorney before you finalize anything. Keep a written record of your funeral arrangements close at hand, perhaps in a file cabinet at home, rather than in a safe deposit box. You’ll want you family to have timely access to your records when they need them.

  4. Contact Funeral Directors

    Contact several funeral directors in your area to compare prices and available options. You can request written information about the cost of the merchandise, services, and professional fees before finalizing any plans. The funeral home staff will assist you in obtaining death certificates and in preparing and submitting the obituary.

    Discuss any religious or cultural preferences that you would like honored with the funeral director. The director can help you contact the clergy member you’ve chosen to perform the memorial service or you help you locate one.

  5. Flowers vs. Donations

    Most guests at a funeral will bring flowers or have them sent unless they are instructed otherwise. If you would rather your guest donate money to a charity in lieu of flowers, you can make that request in the obituary and by word of mouth. Be sure to include instructions on where to send donations. Examples of charities to donate to:
    • the hospice agency that cared for you loved one
    • the cancer or other society of the illness your loved one had (such as The American Heart Society if your loved one had heart disease)
    • a charity that your loved one regularly donated to him/herself.
  6. Choose Your Disposition

    The final plans for the deceased’s remains include:

    • Burial – Burial requires purchasing a cemetery plot, casket, grave liner or vault, and grave marker or monument.
    • Entombment – A patient or family may choose to have the body entombed above ground in a casket placed in a tomb or mausoleum.
    • Cremation – Cremation is a heat process which reduces the remains to ashes. The ashes can be stored in a urn and buried, placed in a niche at a cemetery, kept at home, or scattered. If the wish is for the ashes to be scattered, you should consult with the funeral director regarding legal restrictions.
  7. Make it Your Own

    This service is all about remembering the deceased. The best way to remember the deceased is to think of him as in life. If the person was fun, loved Hawaii, and abhorred all things depressing, you could request that funeral guests come in Hawaiian shirts and pass out leis. If your family is more traditional or conservative, a more subdued funeral with guests dressed in black may be more appropriate. Tailor the funeral to the deceased and it will always stand out in the minds of the guests.

Tips:

  1. A funeral or memorial service can be held near the time of burial or cremation or at a later date.
  2. The choice whether or not to have the casket or urn present at the service is yours.
  3. Having a viewing service or wake is also up to you.
  4. Personalize the service as much as possible.

    Sources:

    Funeral Planning Packet, Hospice of the Valley, MSW Department www.hospicevalley.org.

    Funeral Planning 101 www.funeralplanning101.com.

What You Need

  • The Yellow Pages or other listing of local funeral homes.
  • A clergy member or other person to conduct the service.
  • A lawyer or financial adviser if necessary.
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